The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham – until 17th September 2022
Reviewed by Emma Millward
Fisherman’s Friends is the amazing and unlikely true story of a group of Cornish fishermen from Port Issac who were signed up by Universal Records and went onto produce a top ten hit debut album of traditional sea shanties . They subsequently had a 2019 film made about their story on which this musical is based. The book written by Amanda Whittington is the perfect mix of comedy, tragedy and a fair few Cornish jokes thrown in for good measure.
A group of shanty singing fishermen are spotted by ‘down on his luck’ music executive, Danny (Jason Langley), who spots a business opportunity and asks them to record a demo of their songs. Along the way, he meets Alwyn (Parisa Shahmir) who runs the local ‘Bed & Breakfast’ and he soon realises there is more to life than business deals. Determined to convince his former boss Leah (Fia Houston-Hamilton) that the group are worth taking the risk on, he takes the group to London under the pretence they have an audition with Lia. The London-based scenes are definitely some of the funniest moments of the show.
The show includes 30 sea shanties that have been performed and made famous by the group. All songs are performed live on-stage by the company, which includes talented musicians playing a variety of instruments, which adds to the atmosphere and feel-good nature of the show right from the very start. We are introduced to the group of fishermen headed by Jim (James Gaddas) and Jago (Robert Duncan) and their families, including Maggie (Susan Penhaligon), the Matriarch of the town who has some hilarious one-liners. The entire ensemble works so well together and there is already obvious camaraderie between the cast only a few weeks into this tour. The songs are obviously a huge part of the story, they sing them beautifully and in total unison.
The set design by Lucy Osborne makes clever use of the space available. The backdrop is a traditional port/harbour on two levels with steps and ladders, which the cast use throughout. The lighting was used to give the illusion of beautiful changing skies throughout the story. The lower part of the set could be moved around by the cast to create different settings, such as the pub, the local church, a recording studio and even a London Nightclub, complete with a glittering disco-ball, pink lights and a dance floor!! The boat used for the sea faring sections of the story is controlled by huge ropes pulled by the cast to move the vessel from side to side, and really needs to be seen to be believed.
My only tiny bit of nitpicking would be that the last part of the show seemed a little rushed. The group heading to Glastonbury festival was only briefly mentioned, but staging and time restraints will always mean certain parts of the story won’t be covered in as much detail as others. All in all, the show is a heart-warming, often tear-jerking but inspirational tale, guaranteed to warm the cockles of even the saltiest sea dog!!!